All posts by Jim Stitzel

Jim cultivates interests in a variety of areas. He is an avid storyteller, specializing in (dark) speculative fiction and webcomics. He is also a professional code wrangler and dabbles in amateur photography.

Living with Anxiety

The thing about living with an anxiety disorder is that you never know when those cloying fingers of fear will wrap themselves around you and bring you to a debilitating halt. Sure, there are medications you can take to ease the symptoms and cognitive behavioral techniques you can employ to gain some measure of control. But even with those tools at your disposal, there are more than a few days when it’s still not enough, when those sneaky tendrils of anxiety, stress, and paranoia snake their way into your mind and body and wrap themselves tightly around you, holding you immobile and paralyzing you completely. You can take a self-care day, of course, focusing on resting and regaining the upper hand, but after taking a couple self-care days in a row, it’s easy to start feeling guilty about it because you know there are things around you that need to be done.

Like depression, anxiety, too, is a chronic liar. It tells you that everyone and everything is out to get you, that you’re constantly in danger. It takes everything in your willpower to fight against those lies, to push back against that fight-or-flight instinct, and to settle into a state of gentle repose instead. But it’s hard because that ball of fear stays lodged firmly in the pit of your stomach and, for me at least, my mind loses its ability to focus and my skin feels like it’s on fire with hypersensitivity.

Today is one of those days where it’s a fight and a struggle. Tears have been threatening to slip down my cheeks most of the afternoon already. One part of me wants to slip back into the safety of my bed, to sleep and to hide. Another part of me recognizes that won’t help nearly as much as I want it to and insists I stay put and fight. And so I write. I wield the only weapon currently at my disposal, the sword of words and the sharing of experience. I’m thankful for good friends I can talk to on days like this, friends who won’t judge and who will, in fact, do what they can to support me and prop me up when I can’t seem to do so myself.

This anxiety will pass. It always does. I rely on my mantra to remind me to breathe, and to keep breathing, in and out, as often as necessary, in order to make it from this moment to the next. I fall back on my faith, reminding myself that God walks with me and beside me, and that even if all my human friends were to turn away from me, He is still there for me. The key to all this is patience, a lesson I’ve learned all too well in the past 18 months and which I continue to learn and put into practice. I am a fighter, a warrior, and I wage battle inside myself, with myself, as often as necessary to bring my own body into submission, using whatever tools I have at hand. And I have put together quite the toolkit over the months, but I haven’t done it alone, and for that I am always grateful.

Life marches on. I insist on marching with it. Yes, I have mental illness, but I refuse to allow it to define me. Instead, I learn anew every day how to define myself, in spite of my illness — and perhaps even because of it — and how to keep moving forward. Because forward is the only acceptable direction. I’ve lived in the darkness before; I refuse to go back. The light is what I seek because that is where hope lives and life thrives.

One day, one step, one breath.

A Horse – and a Gun

Dagron Max had been stranded only twice in his life. The first time, he returned carrying a gun. The second time, he returned carrying a saddle, as well. In both cases, a horse died, but in the second case that a man died, as well. And not without cause.

“You just don’t mess with a man’s horse,” Dagron said, retelling the story to anyone who would listen. At the moment his audience consisted only of the bartender — and a horsefly on a filthy shot glass a little way down the bar. “A horse is the measure of a man’s status in this world. You fuck with a man’s horse, you fuck with his reputation. That shit don’t fly.”

Dagron tossed back another shot of the firewater the bartender had served up, the flames burning his mouth and throat as they slid down his gullet. He barely noticed. Smoke puffed out his mouth with his next words.

“That’s why I shot the man. Square between the eyes. You don’t put another man’s horse down like that.” He slammed the shot glass down onto the bar.

“You don’t do that kind of shit.”

Quoth the Raven

I laid on my back on the forest floor, the deadfall beneath me striving vainly to push me closer to the sky. Perched above me a black raven rested on a branch, peering intently down at me, just as it had for the last two hours. The creature never moved, never blinked, never stretched a wing. It might have been dead, for all I knew, except that the occasional gust of wind forced it to readjust its stance.

We remained like that for a long time, the raven and I, staring at one another in quiet communion. I didn’t know why it held such an interest in me — or I in it, for that matter. But there was a sense of calm between us I couldn’t explain.

An old poem I’d read as a child kept replaying through my mind as I laid there. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. I kept expecting the raven to utter the word, “Nevermore!” and fly on its way. But it never did.

So I said it, instead. “Nevermore!” I called. The raven cocked its head in response, curious at my outburst. “So you do move,” I breathed. “That’s good to know.”

Deck Tremor

Captain Adriana Milosovic felt the deck tremble beneath her feet. It was subtle, barely even there at all, and yet it was enough that her senses came to high alert. She glanced around the bridge at her crew, but they were all engaged in their own tasks. No one else seemed to have noticed the oddity.

“Status report!” she barked. Immediately, her crew jumped to high alert as each one checked individual readouts at their stations. Several voices replied simultaneously, but she was used to sorting out the confusion. The gist of the impromptu systems check was that all operations were nominal, operating well within expected parameters.

Adriana returned to her captain’s chair and thumbed the comm for engineering. “Mr. Stock, report please.” The response was immediate.

“We blew a fuse, captain,” he replied. “We’re replacing it right now.”

“Very good. Any idea as to the cause of the failure?”

“None, captain. Diagnostics is underway.”

“Excellent, Mr. Stock. Report to me once you have something.”

“Yes, sir.”

Smoke and Metal

This entry is part 12 of 12 in the series Market of the Macabre

The Priest lifts the lid away from the box and sets it to the side. The smoke inside the box swirls before him like an angry storm but remains in place for the moment. He dips a finger into the smoke, drawing out a long tendril of grey vapor. Then, with his other hand, he twirls the tendril around his index fingers, allowing some of the smoke to climb up his hands and disappear up under the sleeves of his robe. The smoke reappears again above his collar, wrapping around his head and face. His pupils dilate until his eyes are totally black, then return to their normal color. He grins, a toothy, malignant smile, then releases the smoke back to the box.

The medallion, still glowing with an ominous, green, sickly pallor, suddenly draws all the smoke from the box. The smoke surrounds the medallion, hiding it from view. It once again resembles a small, angry storm cloud, lit within by an eerie green light. Static charges shoot off the medallion like tiny lightning bolts, further enhancing the illusion of a storm.

Postcard Micro-fiction

I’ve been a fan of Apex Magazine almost since the day of its inception. So when Jason Sizemore posted on his Facebook page recently that he had free Apex postcards, I immediately thought, Sweet! Free Apex stuff! and messaged him to make sure he had my current address. Then I promptly put it out of my mind.

Until the package showed up a few days later containing 30 beautiful postcards. I had two subsequent thoughts upon opening the package: 1) Wow, these are a really nice! and 2) Oh. Um, what the heck am I going to do with postcards?? I don’t even write letters anymore? The solution I came up with is both simple and apropos — write very short stories on each postcard and then mail them out to random people. Only I’d rather mail them out to people who request them and would enjoy a unique story experience.

You can read through the story archive here on my site and get a sense for the kind of fiction I write. If you’re interested in receiving a very short, handwritten story from me, the only thing you need to do is let me know. You can use my contact form to email me your address or, if you’re friends with me on Facebook, send me your address via Messenger. (Please don’t post your address in the comments in either place, as I’d like to protect personal information.)

I have 30 postcards in stock, 15 in two different layouts, so it’s first come, first serve. This gives me an opportunity to spread my writing around a little in a fun way while giving one of my favorite speculative fiction publishers a little more visibility. And please feel free to give this a signal boost to your friends and family who might enjoy this. I’d love to meet new readers.

Mental Wellness: It’s an Ongoing Process

The last four days have been some of the hardest I’ve experienced in quite some time. I’ve been mired in a state of depression that probably hasn’t been this severe since the early part of my recovery last summer. I’ve fought and struggled and despaired and clung onto anything that would help me keep my head above water. I’ve immersed myself in video games as a distraction and temporary escape. I’ve reached out to friends I’ve known would be understanding and sympathetic and supportive (and I thank all of you who’ve taken the time to give me some of your attention). I’ve raged inside my own mind, angry at the relapse, knowing the way I feel is stupid and ridiculous and irrational, but unable to shake free of it nonetheless. I’ve been afraid — terrified, if I’m truly honest — of an irreversible spiral back into darkness.

I say all this, not as an admission of defeat or failure, but as a reminder that the journey through and toward mental wellness continues to be a day-by-day process. There are going to be setbacks, relapses, dark valleys. And that’s ok. It’s fine to have those moments because they pass. They always pass. This is why I’ve spent so much time this past year building up a support network around myself. I have two or three very close friends I can go to anytime about anything and know they won’t judge me. There are at least a dozen others I can touch base with for casual chats, brief and uplifting moments of light, who I also know “get” it and, even if they don’t realize it, give me their support and encouragement just by granting me some small measure of their attention.

And I know, in clear and painful detail, what caused this latest bout of depression. Yes, part of it is the chemical instability that is a permanent part of my brain chemistry. But it is also the daily stress I have been under for the better part of the last month. It has been the constant disappointments and frustrations of living life, of encountering roadblock after roadblock after roadblock preventing me from getting to the place in my life where I really want to be. It’s the deep, deep loneliness I feel every day, missing my children (even when they drive me crazy), the inability to have much of a social life because I can’t afford one financially. (And isn’t that just a kicker right there, that, on some level, money is almost always required for socialization, even if it’s just for the fuel you need for your vehicle.)

I’m doing better today. The mental pall has lifted, and I feel more like me again. The stresses that afflict me continue to be there, but I’m in a better frame of mind to cope with them. And I’m continuing to try to lean on God and my faith to get through this seemingly never-ending waiting game. It’s an ongoing process, and I’ll keep going on.

One day at a time.
One step at a time.
One breath at a time.

One Side of the Looking Glass

He can see her there, standing just on the other side of the glass. She’s next to him, of course, there but not here. He can reach out with a hand and touch her shoulder. She smiles at him. Warm. Affectionate. But also sad. Because he is not truly there. Only here. He can touch her, but he cannot feel her.

“Hello,” he says to her, as he always does. They learned long ago that she cannot hear him, nor he her. But they have learned to read lips. He sees her mouth move in response, her lips forming the word, Hi. But it is silent on this side of the glass, just as it always has been.

He knows little about her world. It’s not like his own, despite the reflection. He can see only her but nothing else. It is an enigma he would dearly love to solve. He would give anything to pass through that barrier to be with her.

Her mouth forms words again, as he knows they must, as they have so many times before. I have to go, she says. She turns and slowly fades away, leaving only his own reflection and aching heart.

The Peak

The wind gusted across the dusty peak, nearly knocking Zachariah off his feet. He pulled his weathered duster closer around him and pulled his hat down further over his eyes in a vain attempt to keep blowing debris out of his eyes.

The townsmen had said the climb would be difficult, at best. Zachariah remembered their tilted smiles, only just barely on their faces, but he could read both the amusement and resignation in their eyes. They’ve seen too many others attempt the climb and die, he had thought. But he would not be one of those so ill-fated.

And he wasn’t. He had reached the peak, despite the treacherous terrain, and now he stood here, bracing against the gale trying to pry him off.

“Not today,” he muttered. He pushed forward, eyes set on the one bit of rock ahead that stood just higher than the rest of the peak. The wind rose as he struggled with each step, striving to drive him back. But he would not be driven.

Finally, he reached the stone and stopped, gathering his breath. From a pocket of his duster he produced a pendant, glowing faintly of green light. That glow grew brighter, almost blinding, the moment he pressed it against the stone, and a seam of light appeared, tracing the outline of a doorway.

Small Blessings

It’s Saturday morning, and my children are taking advantage of the cooler morning air to be outside, playing in the yard, blowing bubbles, creating chalk creations on the sidewalk. I was able to get a full night’s sleep last night, the first all week. My mood today is stable, even though the challenges I’m facing haven’t gone away. I’m finding my voice in written words again, something for which I’m always grateful.

I’ve been taking no small amount of inspiration from Mandy Harvey this week, the deaf singer who recently won a golden buzzer on America’s Got Talent. Here’s a young woman who has overcome severe adversity to follow her dream. It reminds me that there’s no reason I can’t do the same. I’ve always wanted to be a professional writer, to make my living crafting words. And really the only thing stopping me from doing that is me, if I’m perfectly honest with myself. Despite my circumstances, I’m still blessed with a place to live, and I have copious quantities of free time while I continue the frustrating process of seeking employment. I’ve simply squandered the time I have.

I’ve much to be grateful for today, and I need to start looking at my unemployment as a blessing rather than a curse, as an opportunity to pursue my dream. There’s really no reason I can’t make a living off my writing, and this does seem like a perfect opportunity to start doing that. Small blessings sometimes come disguised as great challenges.